Councillors defect to new group after quitting cabinet in row about ‘consultation and engagement’
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Three former Merthyr Tydfil Council cabinet members have defected to a new group after raising concerns about the approach to consultation and engagement.
Councillors Andrew Barry, Kevin O’Neill and David Hughes have left their cabinet posts and joined the new community independents group.
The three councillors had voiced their opposition to the potential for a new 3-16 Catholic school to be built on the popular fields known as The Greenie and the Buttercup Field and they are joined in the new group by councillors Declan Sammon and John Thomas.
The council leader Councillor Lisa Mytton announced a reshuffle of cabinet in December which sees her remain as leader and cabinet member for education and Councillor Geraint Thomas is the deputy leader and cabinet member for economy and public protection.
Councillor Chris Davies is cabinet member for governance and resources, Councillor Michelle Jones is cabinet member for neighbourhood services and Councillor Tony Rogers is cabinet member for social services.
Cllr Mytton said the reshuffle was just about making sure they had the best team to allow Merthyr Tydfil to keep moving forward and was not about one specific issue.
But in a statement, the new community independents group said: “There has been concerns for a number of months in regard to the independent administration leadership approach towards engagement and consultation with the communities of MTCBC (Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council).
“We have always been in support of the WG (Welsh Government) 21st Century school strategy underpinned by the necessary engagement and consultation with the public.
“Prior to the special council meeting on 7/12/21 all those members of this new group had told the leadership to their face they were not supportive of options to build on the Greenie fields or Buttercup Field.
“These discussions were in cabinet and our diarised group meeting the day before SCM (special council meeting).”
During the special council meeting Councillor Andrew Barry proposed an amendment to the report which had two proposals for the consultation with one relating to The Greenie fields and one relating to the Buttercup Field.
The amendment proposed that “none of the above” be added as a third option.
The group statement said: “We believed that this would at least show we had listened to the 76% who had already voted against the options in the previous consultations.”
Councillors O’Neill, Hughes, John Thomas, Andrew Barry, Sammon, Julian Amos, Kevin Gibbs and David Isaac all voted in favour of the amendment but it was defeated.
Council then voted in favour of going out to consultation on the two options in the report with only Councillors O’Neill, Andrew Barry, John Thomas, Hughes, Sammon and Amos voting against it.
Following a budget consultation event the following morning which the group described as “professional and productive,” the group statement said that Councillor Andrew Barry and Kevin O’Neill were sacked from the cabinet and then Councillor David Hughes resigned from the cabinet in support of them.
Later both Cllr Sammon and Cllr John Thomas also resigned from the independent group.
‘Matter of principle’
The group said: “As a matter of principle but with a heavy heart these decisions were made as the approach and actions of the leadership were directly opposed to our core values of representing those in the communities who have elected us.”
The first AGM of the community independents was held on December 16 with Cllr O’Neill elected leader and Cllr Andrew Barry elected deputy leader, Declan Sammon as chairman and John Thomas as secretary.
The group’s statement said: “We intend to continue to work together to support those in our communities who elected us.
“We are determined to engage, listen, consult, help and support all those in our communities whoever they may be.
“We have a large and loyal following and look forward with anticipation to the local authority elections in May 2022.”
An information report set to go before full council on Wednesday, January 5 confirms that the number of cabinet roles will be reduced from six to five.
Councillor Lisa Mytton said: “I had the full support of the group when I became interim leader and when I was elected leader by the full council at the AGM.
“I am very proud of the progress we’ve made and our achievements during that time.
“In particular, we made considerable progress towards satisfying external regulators that the council was able to manage its affairs robustly and efficiently.
“For a few months leading up to December 2021, however, I’ve felt there were some differences of view emerging from some members of the cabinet.
“The leader and cabinet should always convey a professional attitude and behaviour in front of the public and officers.
“I have always tried to work collaboratively with officers and members, and I called several meetings with the group to try to facilitate that.
“On several occasions, we had discussions about attitudes towards council business and our officers, but it was not possible for me to achieve what I considered to be an agreed approach from all members of the cabinet.
“I therefore felt it necessary to change the composition of the cabinet to ensure that we continued to make progress.
“This reshuffle was entirely about ensuring we have the best possible team to allow Merthyr Tydfil to keep moving forward on every issue – and was certainly not related to one specific issue.
“It is paramount that our residents are part of this journey and help shape the services that we deliver.
“The council will continue to deliver a robust listening and engagement process which will be regularly reviewed based on public feedback.
“I look forward to sharing news of our ongoing achievements with you in the future.”
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